The route setters who put up the bouldering problems at climbing gyms and competitions are an elite tribe of fiendishly clever puzzle-masters who delight in the contortions that their crimps and jugs force climbers to make.
The route setter studied the blank gray surface.
His section—part of an array of climbing walls set up outdoors under a huge tent—was 16 feet tall and 10 feet wide, and it loomed above the chalk-dusted mat at a forward-facing 40-degree angle. His eyes darted from one position to the next, dancing along a grid of bolt holes that were laid out every six inches, like a sheet of graph paper. Strewn around the stage were thousands of Crayon-colored climbing handholds, a wicked assortment of crimps and jugs and pinches and pockets that he would use to fill this void. After a moment of reflection, he unholstered his cordless drill and affixed a bright blue hold to the wall with a whir and a screech. The hold had an intricate, primal-looking pattern etched into it, along with a pocket that could fit (barely) two flexed fingers.
It was a Tuesday in early June, and the setter, Max Zolotukhin, was part of an elite six-man team planning 36 routes, or problems, for the Bouldering World Cup in Vail, Colorado. The best climbers in the sport would be arriving that weekend, including Jan Hojer, the six-foot-one German powerhouse, and Adam Ondra, the Czech bean sprout with sinewy arms and a mop of curly hair. The setters would provide the challenges that would separate their performances.
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